En route to Porto via London
Edmonton International Airport → Vancouver International Airport → Gatwick Airport
Getting ready for #ghc19 !
Really stoked to meet up with old friends and make some new ones 🤗✨
On my way to #ghc19 in Orlando. Around 25 000 people are attending this year! Maybe I'll find some reinforcement learning friends while I'm there...
Edmonton International Airport → George Bush Intercontinental Airport → Orlando International Airport
After paddling, Dylan and I went down to Victoria for a few days to sight-see before heading back to Alberta.
The greyhound looped around MillBay before heading down the Mallahat, which was a wave of nostalgia.
Courtenay, British Columbia → Nanaimo → Victoria, British Columbia
In montreal for RLDM 2019
Edmonton International Airport → Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
Kansai International Airport → Vancouver International Airport → Edmonton International Airport
Yesterday I visited Nara and hiked to the top of Mount Wakakusa. The friends I met at the top weren’t just hanging out at the peak: deer are all throughout the city, mingling with people; however, this congregation was a bit more wary of me than the city-dwellers. After sitting and resting a bit they warmed up to me and continues grazing as I watched the sunset over Todai-ji. In Nara, deer are sacred natural monuments believed to be messengers of the gods by one of the local temples.
Kyōto Station → Tōdai-ji → Mount Wakakusa
I made it to the top of Mount Hiei, a sacred mountain in Japan. At the top, I met a guy from Toronto. Canadians are everywhere.
One of the most frustrating aspects of traveling with friends who are men is having your change, or your tickets, or even your passport handed off to the man. Doesn’t matter if you are booked and paying separately, the dude gets your stuff.
I found this little friend yesterday! A cute little Nudibranch. I love how varied the colours and shapes and sizes of sea-slugs are! They’re so delicate and beautiful. I could sit and watch these guys inch along all day 🐛
I’m really fortunate my trip aligned with the right season to see them. They only come out when the water is cooler; when it warms up, they head inside the coral to avoid the heat.
That's it for Tokyo! On to Okinawa for a little bit a scuba-diving and some beach time.
I made my way to Meji-Jinju for Haru-no-Taisui: the spring festival. It's the largest shinto ceremony of the year at the shrine. Rituals include a sacred dance based on a poem for uninterrupted world peace.
Large tori gates lined unmistakably marked the trailhead. The only thing you could smell was lush forest decay. Large trees formed a dense, long walk to the outer courtyard of the shrine.
When I arrived, the service had started. There were many people seated facing inwards. Through the rows of those seated above at the dais, I could barely see the priests.
In the outer courtyard, it was an ordinary day. Devotees arrived at the shrine, making a steady chatter of coins being dropped into offering boxes. So much noise outside while such a somber service inside.
I waited and watched, hoping for a glimpse of the ceremony. A drum sounded. Someone let out a call. A procession made their way down the stairs, walking single file and in unison.
Haneda Airport → Naha Airport
Today Matt and I went to the Ghibli museum. I opted to wake up and head over a bit ealier to take in Tokyo craft week. I made my way over and found a small cafe that specialized in roasting and pour-overs. Swing jazz in the background. The man was friendly and greeted community members walking by, starting their day. He ground coffee for both of us, letting me smell the aroma of each to learn a bit more. I sat and enjoyed my cup, charting my path for the day.
I ambled down a street lined with artesans. I found a yarn store that would wind balls for you based on the yardage you need. I bought a fuzzy frog coin-pouch. The whole street felt like sidney outside of victoria. It had the same pace of people strolling up and down the street starting their day. I followed along.
There was really only one particular place I wanted to visit, and it was shut. I moseyed up and down the street to make sure that I was in the right place. Just as I was about to leave and head to the museum, a trendy-looking woman came barreling down the street to open up the shop. We chatted about about ceramics, and I picked up a chawan in natural colours with green glass pooled at the bottom.
I had to book it over to the museum to make it in time for our slot. Angling for a snack, I made my way into a tea shop that specialized in darjeeling. I was welcomed in by the woman running the shop. By the time I figured out they had no snacks it was too late: I felt like I could walk away from the woman running the store after she was so welcoming. I left with a great cup of tea and huffed it across one of the most beautiful parks I've seen, but regrettably didn't get to enjoy.
I could see why they chose to have the ghibli museum in such a magical, natural park.
It was fascinating how the unmistakably ghibli style was rendered into reality. The familiar shapes and details found in ordinary materials and objects. Even the plants had the look, although effortlessly. None of it felt cultivated.
I was struck by how the crowd interacted with the space. Photos were prohibited, save for a small spot on the roof-top terrace. This meant people were paying attention.
The exhibits didn't have too much content, but what was there was all informative and impactful. A series of rooms set up to look like an animation studio outlined key aspects of the process. My favourite was the story-boarding. The room was plastered with reference images from all sorts of films. I'm not sure if they were originals from film-making, but they were certainly hand-drawn. It was actually a very emotional experience. There were drawings of character studies out in the open, pinned with thumbtacks to the wall. Anyone could accidentally touch them or damage them, but they were in well cared for.
On a table were three art-books. Inside them were plastered cut-outs as a study for one of the films. Pieces of origami paper were used as borders and backgrounds. Everything from horoscopes to trains to military uniforms---all neatly placed in reference books.
The room was filled with treasures. Small sculptures, trinkets, prototypes, reference books piled into a mound. Chaotic productivity. I was inspired, although maybe my inspiration comes from a cargo-cult mentality. It looks productive.
There was a lot of care put into the details. Even the smoke-detectors had caricatures painted around them. There was a cabinet downstairs you couldn't open. Unlike the doors above it, it wouldn't budge; however, if you bent down---to the height of a child---you could lift a flap and peek inside. There was a collection of plush characters and an Oscar. It's not flaunted, but left hidden. You have to be curious to find it.
I bet there's countless treasures I missed.
Akihabara Station → Ghibli Museum
I'm sitting in a small floral shop getting ready for the day. I managed to sleep in and get some rest. I actually came here for dinner yesterday evening after wandering around town. There was a bit of a line: around two hours. I asked the woman at the end of the line about the cafe, and she said she would come and visit every time she was in Tokyo.
If it's so good you'll wait in line for two hours to get into a place you frequent, I guess I'll wait, too.
I started the day by going back to Shinjuku and seeing what it was like with more people out. I found a little side-street with a sign pointing inwards:
COFFEE. I obliged.
Hiding in a fashionable and bare building was a tiny place. I ordered a matcha latte that was revelatory. While sipping at a swing-out bar-stool, I noticed a stack of booklets tucked neatly into a holder at the table.
Tokyo Craft Week.
It turns out the place Matt and I were going to tomorrow had plenty of little artisans around. I was excited. After polishing off my latte, I headed to the national gardens for tea-time.
I took it slow, looking for the traditional tea house tucked away. I found it sprouting up next to some bushes, almost hidden. I practiced my best polite entry and was greeted by an elderly lady in traditional formalwear. She sat me on a bench along the wall and handed me a tiny, fluffy sweet in the shape of a cloud.
I slowly sipped on my tea, listening to the rain tap on the thin roof. I continued around the park, rain coming and going with no particular direction. I found a cherry tree that had fallen, with a poem written on a sign next to the decaying husk. I crouched down, pulled out my phone, and drew the characters---like I was finger-painting on the screen. I wanted to read the poem.
There was a greenhouse with many micro-climates and a prodigious collection of carnivorous plants.
I still had a few hours before Matt's reservation at the robot restaurant. I passed the time by wandering around shinjuku. I heard a loud chant in the distance. I walked around until I found a procession and caught up with them. I think they were chanting to the new emperor that ascended to the throne today. There were people lining the streets looking at them, many with a look of irritation or bemusement. The procession was quite earnest about whatever they were preaching.
I then made my way to a few to a few shrines in the area. They were completely deserted because of the drizzling rain. One of them had a Buddha holding a staff that looked just like the sculpture in the National Museum of Scotland's statuary. I found that reassuring.
Harajuku → Shibuya → Shinjuku
A nice side-effect of new Game of Thrones episodes while I’m traveling: I’m encouraged me be present in the moment and not look at twitter for fear of being spoiled.
One of my favorite kinds of people watching when I’m traveling is observing selfie-taking. It’s fun seeing the difference between how people hold themselves when they know they’re going to be seen, and how they relax afterwards.
I say this with full self-awareness. My family doesn’t just want to see where I’ve been, they want to see me there!
This morning, I opted to do something familar: to retread my steps and go back to the renoir for a cup of coffee.
Afterwards, I trekked out to harajuku. I found the famous street and ambled along. Even at 9 A.M. it was already heaving. The streets were bursting at the seams although much of the street was closed.
I have to admit, while some aspects are wild---e.g., rainbow toasties---the street was otherwise unremarkable.
I focused on brahms path and confirmed a suspicion: it is named after the composer. Trundling down brahms path, Being one street removed, really changed the feeling. Even the smell of lush plants growing on the sides of buildings was nice. I charted out the places I wanted to visit and let interest guide me. When I found something unusual or mundane, I let that impulse guide me.
I found so many neat streets---interesting nooks and crannies. I went to a little coffee shop next to shinjuku. It had low ceilings and beautiful heavy wooden seating. I ordered a slice of cake and a pourover.
The couple sitting next to me seemed pleasant. They commented on my choice of cake. We started to chit-chat and I found out that they were from California, from SanFrancisco. One of them did arts and life reviews and commentary.
We chatted about their career, and the sustainability of the arts community in a city being crowded out by tech. They asked me what I did, and I mentioned I was a grad-student studying AI. One of them worked at GoogleBrain. You can never escape. There is no holiday.
This is a big day; it's the end of an era: an imperial era!
I went to Roppongi hills and wandered around a graveyard. A woman on a bicycle rounded the corner and pushed up the hill. A collection of pigeons emerged out of nowhere and followed her---a cloud.
As I was looking for a place to find coffee, I walked by a park with some homeless youth. what struck me was their organization. They were spot-cleaning their clothes, blotting then carefully with small towels.
Every now and then, I worry that I'm spending too much time on trip advisor, or the like---I'm focused too much on finding where to go and not enjoying where I am. I should be thinking around what's around me.
I ended up going to zozo-ji and exploring the mausoleum of tokigawa shoguns. I felt out of place in the small courtyard. There were no western tourists. It was peaceful watching people pray. A handful of the visitors bowed and prayed at select, specific shoguns.
Up at the temple's main hall, many people were lined up to bring incesnse to their forheads and sprinkle it into a burning pile in a bowl.
I was surprised by how gilt the temple was. It was almost as gold as a spanish church; however, it wasn't overwhelming. I think this is because the temple was restrained with its decoration and ornamentation: while select statues were complex, the room as a whole was minimalistic.
Also, I turned a corner and found an elevator. Could you imagine an elevator being retrofitted into a historical church? I don't believe I've ever seen one. When I found the elevator---an anachronism---it struck me how these spaces play a functional role for a large number of people. These temples are spaces that are designed with a practical purpose.
Most people non-religious people in japan pray at shines or private altars, although they don't identify as shintoist in surveys. You can see this in how vibrant the communities are around shines. There were so many families and young adults practicing their religion. At small shrines I walked by on the way to the temple, there were so many people casually stopping to pray.
In the evening, I went to a more popular Senso-ji: an ancient buddhist temple. It is one of the most popular temples in Tokyo to visit.
Droves of people. All of them milling about. I was overloaded with the sounds of people rattling sticks to find their fortune, the sound of people throwing their coins as an offering into massive slatted boxes before bowing in prayer.
While I had my tripod out taking shots of the temple two groups of men came up to me and started chatting. The first man was clearly off. With my chunky camera and travel tripod, I stick out. I was respectful about where I placed myself, making sure not to block the throngs of people moving by. I did stick out visually, though. The first man was maybe in his forties and hovered around me. He cracked jokes---introducing himself as 'Johnny Depp' and photo-bombing---but also silently stared at me in the distance. Something seemed wrong.
Later, a pair of men came up to me: one much older than the other and with far fewer teeth. They told me some things that I didn't quite catch, and the younger of the two suggested I return after dusk for better photos. The two asked to take a photo with me and continued milling about the area. When I bumped into them again, the older of the two gifted me a boar key-chain. I think it was because they saw me offer to take a photo for a family.
It's strange how two similar interactions can diverge for seemingly minor reasons.
Roppongi Hills → Tokyo Tower → Zōjō-ji → Sensō-ji
We woke up early to go to Odaiba: an artificial island filled with amusement parks and expo halls. The train to the island had a wonderful view; we dipsy doodled east, crossing a bridge over to the island. Through the dockside cranes you could catch glimpses of mount fuji: a little triangle on the horizon slightly obscured by particulate and capped with snow.
We were on the island to see the Team Epsom Digital Art Museum a concept piece that dwells on themes of nature and industry. We entered into a dark room that erupted into an open space covered in butterflies. There are no maps: there is no set path. We discovered each installation by exhaustively searching through a maze of hallways. I'm still not sure if we managed to even find all the installations.
The first room I found was my favourite: The Nest. You entered by climbing across a rope cat-walk down into a net. We were suspended in the dark above a mirrored floor, giving the impression that you're floating in an endless abyss. Lying down in the nest, you could see a mass of what looked like stars, all flickering in the void.
Once everyone was settled, a few glyphs moving and changing emerged from the darkness. Shapes and sounds whirred around, giving the feeling that you were warping through space and tine.
Getting lost in the museum was immensely satisfying. The whole labyrinth really imparted a sense of wonder. The meticulous sound-scaping and darkness of the museum created a complete, immersive experience.
What caught me the most was how they played with your perception by creating complex projections onto irregular spaces.
Each of the rooms had to be discovered. Subtle cues in the hallways alluded to the presence of another room---for instance processions of sedans of animals marching down the hall.
In the back of one of the rooms, obscured by a sheer curtain, was a tea-house. Using carefully arranged projectors, the chaisu's were decorated with blossoms that slowly blossomed in your tea as you drank it. ONce you finished, or if you disturbed the projection enough, the blossoms blew away.
It was beautiful to watch the cup with the froth---almost as interesting as watching the rest of the room discover their tea. There was a small child sat on a guardian's lap, helping herself to a bowl of matcha icecream. Although the room was dark, you could just barely catch her expression in the reflected light of a field of grass crowing around her icecream bowl.
The space was inspiring.
We wandered by Shibuya in the evening, just as the sun was setting. After emerging from the subway, we found ourselves pushing through a nationalist rally. Just as the speaker handed a microphone to a middle-aged woman, we crossed behind her: directly in the camera's line-of-sight.
I guess strong xenophobic sentiment is still and issue. In one of the department stores is a patio which hosts live music and has the best view of Shibuya crossing: one of the busiest intersections in the world.
We climbed to the observation deck and watched the hoards of people flood the street to cross along the chasm of the scramble. It wasn't until I started taking long-exposure shots that I noticed something: within the swarms of people are little stationary specks. You could see clusters of people taking selfies in the dead-centre of the crossing.
Today I landed in Tokyo for the first day of a three week trip around the country. I'm no stranger to long-haul flights. When I was an undergraduate student I had to make the voyage between western Canada and Scotland fairly regularly. In spite of my seasoned travelling, this was a uniquely punishing flight. I made the poor decision of trying to get work done on my flights, and by the time I arrived I paid for it.
I made my way through immigration relatively painlessly and drifted to the airport's train station. By this point, I was running on less than fumes: my tank was empty.
I rested into a coma as the airport train whirred past Narita, through the countryside, and into Tokyo proper. It didn't really click with me---It hadn't really settled that I was so far away until I saw Narita-san standing tall above the canopy of trees. I tried to soak in as much as possible while sinking deeper and deeper into my train seat. Rice paddies, amusement parks, shopping malls, forests all blurring together.
My friend and I found a nice, cheap hotel in Akihabara. Emerging from the station into the Friday-night rush was overwhelming. Salarymen heading to the bars were huddled on every corner.
The first thing I needed was food.
I've travelled a lot; I'm comfortable moving around in places where I don't know the native language. In spite of this, I milled around the same few blocks over and over again---spending well over an hour looking for a place to eat. The major inhibitor was a crushing social anxiety. I didn't want to be rude, but by not being fully aware of social protocol, I was inevitably going to be.
I eventually ended up steeling myself for ramen. Like a social freak, I stood outside of a ramen shop watching how the business people ordered. 1) Go to the kiosk, 2) enter your order, 3) take your seat and hand the waitstaff your ticket. I felt like a social freak for not being able to do something so simple.
It was a slightly solitary experience. People come in, eat, and then leave---a purely nutritional exchange. Like a sit-in taco truck. Only two people the entire time I was there exchanged a word between each other; everyone else ate in silence and then left. Often western people seem afraid of eating alone. After all, You should be able to find people to eat with. That anxiety of looking like a social outcast makes some sense: eating is in many senses a social experience in most western cultures.
Today we went to tokyo SkyTree. Surprisingly, it was quite nice and relatively relaxed. There were few people despite the today being the start of Golden Week. The air was filled with smog, so we couldn't see too far, but the weather was decent, so we got a reasonable view of the city.
We had lunch at a little shop on the 340th floor of the tower.
Under the tower is a massive shopping complex. Some of the more experimental brands were hilarious. I found a sweatsher with a frame from Harry Potter on it: Ronald Weasley on a couch, pouting. It looked like one of those fruit of the loom sweatshirts people used to get photos printed on in the 90s.
Today I bit the data management bullet and started reviewing old photos. Geeze, I've forgotten how tedious it can be reviewing photos en masse: selecting them, editing them, exporting them, properly arranging them into albums..,
My labmate and I are heading to @CIFAR_News winter school on the neuroscience of consciousness and found a pepper robot in the wild (only one finger missing).
(I've never actually seen one practically put to use)
I was on a flight and the guy across the aisle from me clearly took a picture of the woman sitting next to him.
After the flight, I mentioned to him (in private) that I noticed he took a photo of her without her permission.
His response? "It's not even your problem".
Johannes and I had a some time before our flight left after the AAAI Fall Symposium Series to go check out some of the sights in D.C. We walked around the mall in the morning before the crowds descended and had a chance to take in the monuments with very few people around.
You often see the Vietnam War memorial in popular media, and for good reason: the Vietnam memorial is impactful.
I had never seen any depiction of the Korean War memorial: a lush statuary, rather than the typical neo-classical plaza.
The only way to experience the memorial is through a forest. To get to the inscription and the fountain you must emerge from cover into a clearing with a platoon of brass statues. The first statue seems to be waving you back.
The monument brings the environment to the statues.
There were a few wreathes laid down by the fountain, both with fresh flowers from Korean community organizations.
I had a chance to walk around Washington for a few hours with Johannes.
We first visited the Lincoln Memorial, which was shockingly smaller than I had expected. You grow up seeing all these monuments in art and movies; when you finally see the real thing, it's a bit weird.
It's this uncanny valley that you wander into. You're so familiar with the monument as media short-hand for some idea, that the real monuments seem somehow incomplete. There's these grand larger-than-life expectations of iconic monuments, and then there's the reality of wandering up to the monument which looks largely the same as any other statue.
There's several minor monuments around the perimeter of the mall. This one was one of my favorites, because it's been transformed into a roundabout.
When I die, I want my legacy to be immortalized into a neo-classical traffic circle.
The MLK memorial was strange. It's much newer than I expected---completed in 2011. To get to the plaza, you emerge from between a mountain split in half into a plaza. The plaza is wide open space looking over a lake with what looks like the peak of the mountain hurled into the center.
When you approach the slab from the other side you're greeted with MLK's likeness looking off into the corner. The concept is neat. The statue itself seems a bit stern.
"Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."
The Vietnam War Memorial is probably one of the most influential monuments on popular culture---It seems to be referenced the most. It's relevance makes sense: it's the most recent war monument. Many people have immediate family who fought in the war.
It's simply a chevron of names cut into the ground. What was truly interesting was the collection of volunteers manning the monument.
These volunteers seemed to predominantly be Vietnam vets. They stood around the monument, helping visitors find the names of loved-ones. They even had cards and a step-stool to take rubbings of the monument, allowing people to take the name home with them.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is almost feels more impressive than the Lincoln memorial.
The statue was placed in the centre of a circular room. Inscribed on the walls were a selection Jefferson's quotes.
Interestingly, there was this quote on constitutional inerrancy which I thought was strikingly poignant, especially with the discussion of restricting gun ownership in the wake of numerous mass shootings. I guess certain legislation gets enshrined as being beyond criticism, even against the intent of those who influenced it.
Johannes and I continued around the park, wandering around before grabbing a bite. As the morning shifted into the afternoon, the mall came alive with numerous charity events and political marches.
Before heading to lunch, we made an obligatory visit to the White House. Again, it was much smaller than I imagined it would be. I'm fairly certain it's smaller than the albertan provincial legislative buildings.
Examining the roof-line, there is a hint of grey concrete which seems out of place with the neo-classical mansion. There's what looks like a reinforced bunker on the top of the building. On closer inspection, there was someone standing on the roof with some kind of gun, surveying the surroundings.
People-watching in front of the White House is fascinating. A number of protestors were lining the pavement where tourists were taking photos. A man was pacing back and forth across the length of the White House Lawn with a sign imploring republicans to stand up to Trump.
When I was crossing the border, the homeland security officer gave me recommendations for Washington. One of them was Old Ebbit Grill.
This place is my aesthetic. It has a nice, quiet warmth to it. Wood paneling and dim lighting; hunter green velvet couches; walls mounted with trophies rumored to be shot by Teddy Roosevelt.
After lunch we wandered around town, spending the last couple of hours taking in the streets on the other side of the mall and lamenting the fact we didn't get to visit any of the Smithsonian museums during our trip.
Really excited to head to my first #GHC2018 tomorrow! Does anyone have advice for how to make the most of it as a first-timer?
I got to drive in a Canadian #autonomouscar today! 🚘 🇨🇦 # sucansummit
Landing in Billings; en route to the #eclipse ✈️
In Ann Arbour for #RLDM 👩🏼💻
Man, AirBNB hosts can be awful.
Where I'm living for the next two weeks. #yyc
Day one on my trip down the danube: Sofia, Bulgaria. I walked around some of the popular sights, seeing orthodox cathedrals, Serdician ruins, and an actual yellow-brick road.
Favourite things: when airport security decides to open sanitary napkins when searching luggage.